Top Secrets

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The Guardian / Getty Images

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden

One of the reasons Edward Snowden was apparently able to snag a well-paying job at Booz Allen Hamilton – to the firm’s eternal regret, no doubt – is that he already possessed a Top Secret security clearance he obtained while working for the CIA.

This triggered some thoughts from a Battleland reader, who needs to remain anonymous:

TS clearances are tightly controlled (for good reasons.) The net result is a highly privileged, highly compensated, small community of professionals. The government has created this demand, and now has to pay big bucks to fill it. A contractor is under tremendous pressure to hire and place TS cleared individuals right away.

Additionally, terminating a security clearance is a big deal; if you lose that TS you’re not just out of a job, you’re out of the entire industry…

A starting point in reforming this community has to be with looking at how to manage TS clearances to provide a flow of both govt employees and contractors that break out of this closed community. Many of the jobs now filled by contractors probably should go to govt civil service, but that will be a Very Hard Sell to a cleared IT guy making $200k looking at a GS-13 [c. $80,000] or even GS-14 [c. $100,000] pay schedule…

I had a military TS clearance…I saw exactly -2- things marked Top Secret. One was my WWMCCS [Worldwide Military Command and Control System] password (because there was TS data stored – somewhere — on that network).The other was when in a Secret level discussion, I said a word and was stopped:

“You can’t say that word?”

“What word?”


“Why not?”

“It refers to a program that’s Top Secret ….”

“I say that word all the time.”

“Not any more, you don’t!”

The only thing that came close was a job interview…at NSA, as I was leaving active duty. There were light-up boxes in the hallway. When my escort saw one, he’d hold up my badge, his badge and his escort badge.

The box would stop blinking.

We’d enter a room.

He’d reach for a light switch and flip it.

Just like K-Mart, blue lights would start flashing and people started covering up their desks.

The job interview itself were not particularly deep:

— “What do you do here?”

— “I can’t tell you.”

— “What kinds of technology do you use?”

— “Signal processing”

— “Anything in particular”

— “Can’t say…”

Despite my active military TS clearance, NSA still did a from-scratch investigation. By the time they were ready to make me an offer, I had started another job.

This kind of stuff creates all sorts of problems, as can be gleaned from this ruling from the Pentagon’s Defense Office of Hearing and Appeals (yep, it’s acronym is the same as the capital of Qatar):

At most, these tales of Applicant’s allegedly bad behavior show that he was not particularly well liked by his co-workers. An individual’s security worthiness should not be influenced by his likeability or lack thereof. Applicant may be irascible, but such a personality trait is not a bar to having access to classified information.

Snowden seems to have made that crystal clear.